I am doing the A-Z challenge, focusing on places or entities that can be found within Mendocino County. I do not intend to imply that the subjects of my writing are the most significant, only that they have personal relevance to me. Today’s letter is U for Usal Beach and Westport Union-Landing State Beach.
Food for the Kids
Though I already did a double header for “T,” I am going to do it again for “U.” If once is good-twice is better. Both of the subjects of today’s post are places that my family has camped at in the past. There is a substantial difference between the two, though, and you can decide for yourself which appeals to you.
Westport Union-Landing State Beach covers over three miles of rugged and scenic coastline, with eighty-six campsites available in three campgrounds on the bluffs, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The magnificent vistas, sunsets and tree-covered mountains in the background provide an inspiring backdrop to the park for both amateur and professional photographers.
The park was named for two early day communities: Westport, a sawmill town, which still exists today, and Union Landing, which consists of only a few buildings. Both of these settlements were famous for supplying lumber, railroad ties and Tan Oak bark to schooners which anchored offshore. The schooners were loaded with forest products by means of intricate cable tramways and chutes from the bluffs.
Westport Union Landing State Beach is the closer of the two venues, and involves driving south from Bell Springs Road, about eleven miles, and then heading directly west from Laytonville to the coast, via Branscomb Road. It takes a total of about eighty or ninety minutes to get here from our home. For a quick weekend camping experience, it is ideal.
Annie and I have probably been here in excess of twenty times over the years, with and without the boys. Though rugged, with no hot showers or stores, it is exquisitely beautiful, with trails for walking, and plentiful coastal beach to stroll along. There is a fire pit for each campsite, and a minimum of rowdy campers, to blast the stereo all night, while we try to sleep.
Prior to the arrival of the first Europeans, for thousands of years, the Sinkyone Indians lived in the part of the coast where Usal Beach is located. They occupied permanent villages alongside streams and rivers and moved out in family groups to hunt and forage in the hills during the summer.
They spent time along the coast fishing, gathering seaweed and shellfish, hunting seals and sea lions, and harvesting the occasional dead whale, which washed up on the coast. Fish were an important source of food during the winter time.
Nowadays, Usal Beachin addition to being a campground, is the site of two community gatherings every year, where countless numbers of good friends gather for a weekend, with the emphasis being on friendship and community spirit. Though we knew about the existence of these gatherings, it was several years after we moved to Mendocino County, before we ever joined in. I would guess it was somewhere around 1989 or so, before we ever got it together to join in on one of these gatherings.
For one thing instead of going south to Laytonville, and then bipping over to the coast, we head north from Bell Springs Road, to Leggett, and then head west on Highway One, to the Usal cut-off, and then over a very rugged road to Uasl Beach. It takes close to two and a half hours to finally get there, and at that, we are still quite a ways from the water itself. I never did make it down to the beach the one weekend we were there.
Make no mistake, Usal is ruggedly beautiful, and can hold its own against any venue, as far as gorgeous coastal sites are concerned. Though for some, the Usal gathering is comfortable and invigorating, for me and Annie, it was challenging and not the same as being at over at Union Landing. For me there were too many people, and that was uncomfortable; for Annie there were too many kids, and that meant a lot of work. Our boys definitely liked to chow down at regular intervals, which is no problem. Where the problem came in was that there were a lot of kids who would drift to our camping spot, who were also hungry. It was embarrassing to ask where their parents were, or why they were hungry. Annie did what came naturally; she fed them. We always brought vast amounts of chow for our camping ventures, and it was easier to feed them than it was to turn them away.
In any case that was a one-time venture, and after that we stuck to what was tried and true. And that was Union Landing-not Usal. So if you like peace and quiet, with relatively mellow evenings, then Union Landing is your spot. If you like the good times to roll, and are not too worried about large gatherings and lots of kids scampering around, then you might prefer Usal. What can I say? I guess I am just not a party animal.